Manitoba bus carriers, airlines escalate defences against COVID-19

By | March 14, 2020

As Winnipeg Transit forgoes extra measures to clean their fleet of buses, several other transportation companies serving Manitoba have escalated sanitation efforts against coronavirus — almost to the point of being excessive.

“If everyone overreacted we would stop the spread. Overreacting doesn’t mean you’re panicking. Just because you’re preparing doesn’t mean you’re panicking,” said Kasper Wabinski, founder and CEO of Kasper Transportation. 

“We [as society] should have taken more dramatic measures a lot quicker, like probably six, seven weeks ago, to stop the spread. Maybe we would have been way ahead right now. So overreacting can prevent it.”

Wabinski’s company, which serves Winnipeg and northwestern Ontario, has 21 buses in service for scheduled routes and charters. Most buses are 14-seaters but they also range to 36.

Every time a run is completed — two or three times a day — buses are cleaned with hospital-grade disinfectant. A pressurized container of disinfectant is used to spray the interiors, which are also wiped down.

Buttons, railings, handles and straps on buses are all touched thousands of times a day on Winnipeg Transit buses but no extra cleaning measures are being undertaken. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

Wabinski said the Thunder Bay headquarters of the company is also cleaned and disinfected three times a day. As well, all staff have been given personal protection equipment — masks, gloves and sanitizer.

That’s been going on since early February, he said.

“It’s getting expensive,” he said, estimating he has spent $4,000 on cleaning supplies and another $7,000 on infrared forehead thermometers to detect any fever before a passenger boards.

“We will not provide service to anybody who display symptoms, for our own safety and safety of our customers.”

Wabinski says every business that serves the public has the responsibility to go to extremes to protect them from the coronavirus.

That Winnipeg Transit is taking no additional measures is shocking, he said.

The city’s buses carry more than 168,400 passengers every weekday, all of whom are holding railings and handles, pushing buttons and pressing on the door to exit.

Despite COVID-19 concerns, the city says no extra cleaning and disinfecting is being undertaken. In fact, Transit plans to cut three positions in order to trim $708,000 from its cleaning budget.

“I don’t want to be critical of anybody else but I don’t think that’s acceptable. I don’t move anywhere near the kind of passengers they do — I move 80 passengers a day — and we’re taking more precautions,” Wabinski said.

“I’ve done everything I legally can to give people and my staff confidence in protecting them. I’ve maybe even gone even further than that, asking my staff to limit their social behaviours or change their social behavioural patterns.”

“Some people may say that’s too much but in extreme situations where something like this is happening, I think that’s necessary.”

Via Rail has not cancelled any routes yet due to coronavirus but has implemented its corporate illness control plan. (The Canadian Press)

If it came down to it, Wabinski said he is prepared to shut the business down until the virus is no longer a risk.

“We don’t care about generating revenue if that’s going to put our customers or staff at risk because the damage that will cost to the trust that we build with our customers and our staff is going to be hard to rebuild,” he said. 

Similarly, Mahihkan Bus Lines, which is headquartered in Winnipeg and serves destinations in northern Manitoba, said they have ramped up their cleaning because they transport passengers going to medical appointments.

“We take the cleanliness of our buses very seriously. Our staff thoroughly clean the bathrooms, wash all railings, sweep and wash floors, clean between the seats and spray seats with cleaner,” said manager Karen Larocque.

“We use a cleaning agent called Sanigerm, which is an extremely effective one-step sanitizer for non-food contact surfaces. Also, hand sanitizers have been placed at the entrance of bus for our passengers entering and exiting.”

VIA Rail’s Karl-Philip Marchand Giguere told CBC News the passenger rail company has implemented its “corporate illness control plan,” which entails regular and thorough cleaning of all hard surfaces, including vestibules and washrooms, tray tables, armrests, doors, walls, windows and counters.

Perimeter Aviation says it has implemented extra cleaning procedures that meet or exceed public health guidelines. (Supplied by Perimeter Aviation/perimeter.ca)

Should the COVID-19 situation worsen, Marchand Giguere said VIA is prepared.

“We made sure to acquire more prevention equipment and we’ll be ready for distribution and deployment when it will be required,” he said, noting that no routes have yet been cancelled.

Although the Public Health Agency of Canada still considers the risk associated with COVID-19 as low for the general population in Canada, Winnipeg-based Perimeter Aviation said it is taking proactive steps.

It has implemented additional sanitation procedures for its 32 aircraft to meet or exceed PHAC guidelines, said Ron Hell, one of the vice-presidents for the airline, which provides passenger services from Winnipeg to 23 destinations in Manitoba and northwestern Ontario.

Surfaces such as airport counter, aircraft seats, tray tables, armrests, and lavatories are being thoroughly wiped down and treated with a high-grade disinfectant in all Perimeter Aviation planes. (Supplied by Perimeter Aviation/perimeter.ca)

“Surfaces such as airport counter, aircraft seats, tray tables, armrests, lavatories, et cetera, are thoroughly wiped down and treated with a high-grade disinfectant similar to those used in health care facilities,” he said.

“On board our aircraft and at our check-in counters, Perimeter Airlines will be maintaining supplies of hand sanitizers and disinfectant wipes. We have also implemented changes to our in-flight service offerings, including the removal of all non-essential reading material from our seatback pockets.”

The company will continue monitoring recommendations from PHAC and take additional action as required, Hell said.

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